Dearest Rachel –
Sometimes it’s ridiculous what my mind comes up with overnight these days. Other times, it just ever so slightly depressing, if only for the fact that it spoils the fantasy. But you being you, you would ask about my dream in any event, and while the details are already starting to fade even as I type, it’s hardly necessary to go over them, as they would be subsumed shortly thereafter in any rate.
Allow me to explain, if I can. Technically, it’s not a ‘proof,’ per se, as that would require some knowledge of mathematics (and physics) that would be absurdly beyond my ability to grasp, even if the calculations were possible. Rather, it’s basically a jaded understanding of simple human nature that destroys any possibility of traveling through time as well as space.
It’s simple, really. All it takes are two rival scientists with less than the purest of motives (let’s call them ‘Richard’ and ‘Morton,’ although I never did get around to watching that show, even since you left). It doesn’t even require both to be scientists or inventors, in fact. All it takes is the existence – and the discovery – of some means to travel in time (which will doubtless involve going backwards in order to make a nudge to the timeline in what the traveler assumes to be his favor). If it gets to the point where Morton changes things to a sufficient extent that Richard notices – and, given the infinite time allowed by being able to move through it, this would likely be inevitable – Richard, as a rival, even if only an envious one as opposed to being outright malicious, will attempt to find that same means in order to go back far enough further and negate, pre-empt or supersede whatever changes Morton made. Of course, this would require Morton to do the same to erase Richard’s changes to his changes, at which point Richard would do likewise, and so on and so forth ad nauseum.
At this point, I don’t think I even have to describe the ridiculous things that actually were in my dream (I think a world-ending amount of sour cream was involved at some point, if you can believe it), since the next thing that would happen would be that the other guy would do something to top it or overwhelm it or whatever.
Richard doesn’t have to be a contemporary of Morton’s, even – since knowledge is more or less cumulative over time (with very rare exceptions of lost technology, such as the crafting of obsidian – in the real world, not in Minecraft – and the composition of Greek Fire, just to name a couple of ancient examples), once Morton discovers the means, the genie is out of the bottle. It opens the door for generations of future Richards to either follow Morton’s plans or make the same discovery independently, should Morton somehow succeed in destroying his own.
All of this begs the question, I suppose: assuming Morton is virtuous enough to be responsible with his discovery, why would he do something so reckless as to provoke Richard (and those following in his footsteps) into something so catastrophic? Honestly – and again, I’m relying on human nature here, not mathematics – I don’t think it can be avoided. The discovery of a means of traveling through time (other than the slow ‘forward’ path we humans take naturally) has been a subject of much debate for generations. To be sure, it’s been more the realm of writers rather than scientists, as the former don’t need hard facts or theory in the worlds they build, but there are some among the latter that consider it technically possible, if only through theoretically impossible means such as traveling at hyper-luminous speeds. Time, effort and treasure have been poured into studies of the possibility; the thought that whoever actually discovers that it is possible would not use it to gain some recompense of these expenditures seems absurd on its face. Why research in the first place, if you intend to do nothing with that knowledge, not even announce that yes, it can be done?
And the announcement itself, were it ever to occur (and again, this seems like the purest of scientific motives I can conceive of; any use of this knowledge while keeping it secret from the world at large would almost surely be to a more commercial – suggesting a venial, if not outright evil – purpose), would most likely set off a temporal gold rush of would-be Richards, attempting to duplicate – and benefit from – Morton’s success. There would never be a case of just two dueling scientists, but rather a multitude of them, trying to outdo each other in their quest to benefit from the discovery. Steven Hawking declared the theory dead when no one came to the party he threw that he advertised after the fact (and to be sure, there may well be be the odd time traveler who would want to show up there, both to meet a historical hero and prove him wrong, but that would be perhaps one of the least harmful uses of the discovery – unless, again, Hawking were to admit he had been so visited, setting off the rush that much sooner), but I suspect that the past would be positively overrun with people attempting to ‘fix’ it to their benefit, with ever-increasingly catastrophic results.
I’m sure this isn’t a unique conclusion; in fact, what you told me of the Timeless series, it’s not that far removed from that plot. Even the second installment of Back to the Future is steeped in this concept, upon reflection. And as disappointing as it might be to consider it, it’s another reason you’d never get a chance to hop into the TARDIS for a quick look at the past – or, more germanely, I’d not get the chance to go back and see you again in this life – but it is decidedly the logical conclusion to arrive at, despite the lack of actual calculations to prove it. But maybe Dr. Hawking was right; who needs computations when you can test the theory empirically, even if the literal conceit behind the test is amusingly egotistical?
Anyway, it’s just one more reminder not to try living in the past, if for no other reason than you can’t – and won’t – even get there to do so.
Talk to you later, honey. Keep an eye out for us, and wish us luck. We’re going to need it.